I live two lives. One life is filled with children and laundry and lessons and laundry and hugs and kisses and laundry. The other life is passed fairly anonymously, with no one guessing at my other identity. You see, I’m a homeschooling mother with ten children, some of whom I gave birth to and some of whom were adopted, yet if you were to pass by me on the street without any of my children in tow, I would appear to be completely normal.
It is this apparent normalness that seems to throw people. There are times when, as surprising as it may seem, I go out in public without my children. I go about whatever it is I am doing and no one gives me a second glance. I could be invisible, for all the attention people pay to me. Every so often, though, I do get into a conversation which leads to questions, and then—suddenly—the realization that I am, according to modern standards, NOT NORMAL. At least this is my assumption based on people’s reactions.
Let me give you some examples. One time, my husband and I were invited by a friend to join him as guests at a fundraising benefit dinner. This was rather a big deal to us, as we don’t really get out that much and certainly not to something which would require me to don heels. We do own a few items of dress clothing, allowing us to blend into the crowd. We were enjoying ourselves and were chatting with the other people at our table, also invited by our friend. The conversation eventually turned to children and whether the people seated at the table had any. Now my husband and I, while certainly not ashamed of the number of children we have, have also learned not to jump at divulging the number. It tends to derail conversation, especially if we just blurt it out while someone is taking a drink.
As the conversation went on, someone must have noticed that we hadn’t mentioned whether we had children. Up against the wall, we had to answer. Yes . . . nine, we said. (This was before we had ten, even.) We waited a beat. Several mouths were hanging open. Literally. It’s true and I’m not exaggerating. (I often have the desire to reach over and gently close a person’s mouth.) Since we are used to this reaction, we sipped our drinks and gave everyone a moment to assimilate the information.
It never fails that often one of the first reactions is to ask us if we are kidding. I could tell that they really, really hoped that we were kidding. We assured them that we did indeed have nine children and waited for Inevitable Question Number Two: “How do you do it?” We tried to tell them that aside from more laundry and a bigger van, it just isn’t all that different from having a smaller number (which is true, but no one ever buys it). There is a kind of puzzlement that often follows these conversations that leaves others slightly confused. If I had told them I was a contortionist and my husband swallowed swords, they would have been intrigued and curious. But to admit to so many children seems to strike others as vaguely . . . embarrassing. We had a lovely time that evening, but every so often, I caught someone glancing at me and I had to refrain from patting my shoulders to double check that I hadn’t grown another head.
It’s as if we pulled a fast one on everyone by not doing or saying or wearing something that would clue them into our non-normalness. I wasn’t wearing a hand-sewn denim jumper and head covering. Our clothes were reasonably stylish and not covered in questionable substances. My husband was wearing an attractive tie and not one painted for him by a child. We could both discuss a variety of subjects and appeared to be quite well-educated and well-read. We knew how to sit at the table and use our silverware and form complete sentences. How could we look so much like regular people and yet live such an unusual life?
Not all encounters with the public are quite so civilized. There was the moment in the grocery store with the woman whose volume control was malfunctioning. “That’s a lot of food you have there,” she bellowed.
“Um, yes,” I replied quietly, really not wanting to draw attention to myself and the inevitable question which would follow.
“You must do a lot of cooking,” she continued, evidently not cluing into my desire for not conversing.
“Well, I cook dinner every night,” I said, hoping to avoid all questions of how many I cook for.
“EVERY DAY!?” Other shoppers across the store paused and looked in our direction. You and I both know the question that was coming next. If the mere fact that I cooked dinner every night was so far-fetched and freakish, what would she say when she heard the number of servings it takes to feed the household? Much to my delight, the checker required my attention and I was saved from having my family size loudly bellowed across the entire store. But I guess I can add to my not-normalness the fact that I actually prepare food with ingredients.
The most recent moment of discovery happened at the stable where some of my children take lessons. Every week for the past two years, I have waited with other parents as my children rode. I would sometimes bring an extra child with me, but I had worked out childcare arrangements so that everyone didn’t have to sit and wait through the lessons. I had managed to pass for normal until the day when I had no childcare and had to bring everyone along. (Everyone on this occasion being seven children; the oldest three were off at college taking classes.) My cover was blown. The next week, still no childcare, we all came trooping into the stable again, with me bringing up the rear. One of the trainers stopped me and said, “You’ve got everyone here today again.”
“Um, yeah,” I replied. I mean, what is there to say to that?
“Last week we were all so surprised. We kept asking your kids [the ones who take lessons] how many there were and how many were adopted. WE HAD NO IDEA!” She did not actually shout, but her rising tone of wonder, awe, and astonishment spoke volumes. Tone is everything and her tone was shouting loud and clear, “We thought you were normal.”
Please don’t take these stories to be complaining, because they’re not. I find these incidents amusing and tend to smile and go on to answer the questions that people inevitably have. How do you do it? How old are they? Do you ever get any time to yourself? What kind of car do you drive? Large families are fairly rare these days, and it’s nice to be able to give others a glimpse into our world. Maybe we aren’t entirely normal, but I like to think we’ve found something just a bit better than normal.